During his childhood, he had a hard time because his parents were 'emotionally destructive' to him for being academically poor due to his learning disorder.
Just a few years before Henry Winkler was born in the US, his parents, Harry Winkler and Ilse Maria, moved to the country. They were German Jewish immigrants who fled to escape the Holocaust.
However, all through his childhood, the one thing that Winkler lacked was confidence. All through school, Winkler struggled academically. He had no idea he had a learning disorder while suffering from "a high level of low self-esteem," per IMDb.
Despite this, he was expected to take over the family business—an international lumber company—one day, but he knew his interest lay in acting. He made his acting debut in the eighth grade when he portrayed the role of Billy Budd in his school play. However, he was soon discouraged, because he had to improve his grades to be a part of the plays, per The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.
"It was a catch-22. Because in middle school and high school, you could only be in the play if you have a certain grade average. That grade average was way beyond my reach."
He even had a hard time back home, because his parents were really strict with him. Since education was important to both of them, they were angry with Winkler for being academically poor. They were under the impression that he was just being lazy and not using his full potential. "Their pet name for me was Dumm Hund (dumb dog)," he shared.
There was one incident that he clearly remembered. There was this one time when he was having cereal with his mother present. He "put my ear down to the bowl to hear the snap, crackle, and pop." However, his mother lost it and "chased him around the table" just for doing that.
It was only because his parents managed to move to the US that they were able to provide a "wonderful life" for him and his sister, Beatrice, but that did not change the fact that they were "emotionally destructive," per The Guardian.
But, his sister had a completely different opinion of his parents. "My sister Beatrice remembers them completely differently – and to this day, I'm trying to figure out who the hell she saw."
Later, he realized he was bad at school, not because he was lazy, but because he had a condition—dyslexia.
It was safe to say that he had a very strained relationship with his mother growing up, but he was one of the first people to jump to help her when she suffered a stroke in 1989. She experienced upper limb spasticity, which affected how she moved her arms and caused pain.
This condition made it difficult for caregivers to perform basic functions, like changing the patient's dress, he told Spry Living in June 2013. She did undergo therapy, but it was ineffective. Ilse refused to "leave the house in her wheelchair because it was so embarrassing. She didn't even want to go for a push," recounted the actor.
Also, the Happy Days star was based out of California while his mom and his sister Beatrice were in New York. Though the siblings shared the responsibility of taking care of their mother, Winkler "felt guilty" about not being there for her all the time. He ensured to call and message her regularly and visit her as often as he could whenever he found time away from his work.
Unfortunately, she passed away in 1998.
Having taken care of his mom, he realized that it was not an easy feat. He said he has the utmost respect for caregivers and applauded them for being dedicated to caring for their patients.
"My hat is off to caregivers. My respect is at full tilt for caregivers. The dedication, the patience, just the wear of it all to consistently take care of somebody else – that's a hero," he said.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Rich Polk